The Paris Review

The Ghost of Zora Neale Hurston

© Jennifer May Reiland

“Zora!” Alice Walker howled in the cemetery. “I hope you don’t think I’m going to stand out here all day, with these snakes watching me and these ants having a field day.” It was August 1973. Zora Neale Hurston, who was then thirteen years dead, was a mudslinging protofeminist novelist-folklorist-playwright-ethnographer, not to be crossed, and she had climbed to minor literary stardom in the thirties with her accounts of the Southern African American experience, specifically black Southern womanhood. She was, in the words of her friend Langston Hughes, “the most amusing” among New York’s “Niggerati.” She hailed herself as their queen. But Hurston was complicated. “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves,” she once wrote. “It fails from what one might have wished,” Walker admitted. But she forgave Hurston. As Hurston herself declared, “How any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?”

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